For every Bat, there is a Cat. As the “Batman” film franchise keeps getting rebooted and relaunched, directors and writers always find a way to bring the slinking, thieving Catwoman back into the life of the Caped Crusader. Maybe it’s because they know how vital she is for making the brooding Bruce Wayne feel more human; whenever Selina Kyle, with her whip-smart humor and fierce bullwhip, arrives on the screen, she instantly injects an element of danger, charm and sexuality into the superhero genre, which too often lacks in all three. Aside from the Dark Knight himself and his archenemy Joker, she’s perhaps the most famous character in all of the “Batman” mythos, and one that consistently attracts talented, vibrant actors to don the cat ears. And while the quality of the films and TV shows she’s featured in fluctuates, from amazing to mediocre to an absolute mess, there’s never been a truly bad Catwoman actor on the silver screen.
In honor of Zoe Kravitz’s memorable recent turn as Selina Kyle in Matt Reeves’ “The Batman,” we’re looking at eight live-action depictions of the character, ranked from worst to best.
Lee Meriwether - “Batman: The Movie” (1966)
The 1966 “Batman” series famously featured three different actors as the recurring villain-of-the-week Catwoman. Two of them, Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt, are much celebrated depictions of the character in their own right.
And then the third, Meriwether, is … just kind of there. To be clear, that’s no fault of Meriwether on her own, a talented actor who was seemingly instructed to copy, note-for-note, Newmar’s performance as the character for the film spin-off of the show, after Newmar was unable to reprise her role due to scheduling conflicts. Meriwether actually gets to have some fun notes in the movie, disguising herself as a Soviet journalist named Kitayna Ireyna Tatanya Kerenska Alisoff in order to seduce Bruce Wayne, and she acquits herself reasonably well with the established cast. But she simply isn’t given the freedom to put her own spin on the character, coming across as a mere shadow of Newmar’s deliciously devilish feline.
Camren Bicondova - “Gotham” (2014)
The Fox series “Gotham” is less a live-action “Batman” prequel than it is 100 episodes of “Looney Tunes in Gotham.” The show is absolutely bananas, to the point that as a young Selina Kyle, Camren Bicondova is perhaps one of the more grounded members of the ensemble, and she’s a teenage street thief mixed up in various gang wars and who at one point develops feline superpowers. In the large ensemble of characters and insane twists the show pulls out, Bicondova could occasionally get lost in the shuffle a bit, which is a shame; at only 15 when the show first premiered in 2014, she demonstrated an appropriate amount of grit and intelligence as the girl who’d grow up to be Catwoman.
Also, an honorable mention should be given to Lili Simmons, who portrayed an adult version of the character in the series finale and was completely believable as a grown-up Bicondova.
Halle Berry - “Catwoman” (2004)
The 2004 “Catwoman” film is a flaming litterbox of a movie, the kind of film that makes so many baffling, embarrassing choices that to watch it is to wonder if the filmmakers were pranking the world by releasing it. Berry infamously won a Razzie for her performance in the Pitof-directed stinker, but her work is actually by far the best thing about the film, which bears little resemblance to the comic book character and instead takes the barest bones of the her origin in “Batman Returns” as its inspiration.
Berry is Patience Phillips, a meek button-pusher for an evil cosmetics company who gets killed by her bosses after she discovers the awful side effects of the anti-aging cream. She’s revived by an Egyptian Mau cat to serve as a conduit for the goddess Bast, and Berry, if anything, overcommits, throwing herself into the absolute ridiculousness of the film with admirable gusto. Donning a god-awful costume that basically consists of low-rise skin tight pants and a bra, she plays the reanimated Catwoman as a literal feline on two legs: whether hissing at dogs, huffing catnip like a drug, or slurping milk, there’s an unhinged animalism to her performance that matches the batty nature of the film itself. And while Sharon Stone’s character, an evil cosmetic company CEO with skin as hard as marble, is hard to take seriously, she and Berry have some memorable chemistry together. Is the film good? No, not even remotely. But one can’t deny that Berry is very entertaining in it.
Anne Hathaway - “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)
As the only Catwoman to appear in Christopher Nolan’s iterations of the franchise, Anne Hathaway, dubbed “The Cat” in this version, does her duty as a more devious and stone-faced burglar. Unlike previous versions of the character, Hathaway’s Cat is more skilled and poised in her methodology, with fewer bells and whistles and much more weaponry. Hathaway is a standout in the film and brings a grounded seriousness to the role, if at the expense of its inherent campiness (her teased ‘60s hairstyle partly makes up for that). But she fits squarely in the “Dark Knight” universe, and her pared-back portrayal of Selina Kyle feels appropriate for the film’s grimness. With her sardonic line-readings and scaly armored suit, Hathaway leaves her mark on Catwoman and incorporates some of the best aspects of the portrayals that preceded her.
Zoë Kravitz - “The Batman” (2022)
With the unique honor of being the only person to take on the role of Catwoman in two separate franchises (previously in 2015’s “The Lego Batman Movie”), Zoë Kravitz undeniably has a hold on the character in the modern era, and for good reason. Her take on the waitress-turned-heroine is heavy on the sex appeal, light on comedy and transforms the character for Reeves’ gritty vision of Gotham. She’s the first to openly interpret Catwoman as bisexual and plays the role of a femme fatale with the nuance and depth it deserves. Her aesthetic is also one to behold, with buzzed hair, a torn-up suit and a ski mask that is more subtle than the cat ears that have come before it.
Kravitz and Robert Pattinson’s Batman also have an undeniable chemistry that adds to the audience’s understanding of the morally ambiguous Catwoman, and Kravitz holds the emotional weight of the film with ease and style. Kravitz’s Catwoman is a brooding thirst trap, and audiences are lapping it up.
Julie Newmar - “Batman” (1966)
The 1966, Adam West-led “Batman” show gave us plenty of iconic versions of “Batman” villains, from Frank Gorshin’s maniacal Riddler to Cesar Romero’s goofy Joker, and it served up no less than two iconic Catwomen. The first actor to play the character, Julie Newmar’s Catwoman is, in a word, fabulous. A purring, sexy, statuesque vamp in a skintight suit and heels, Newmar walks away with every episode she’s in, chewing the scenery like nobody’s business and making a grown woman throwing out cat puns feel positively alluring. With West, she has a playful, flirtatious chemistry that makes her sympathetic and yet all the more dangerous. Because while most Catwomen are ultimately good at their core, despite their questionable ways of achieving their goals, Newmar is bad to the bone, and absolutely relishes it. When the series was revived for two direct-to-DVD animated movies, Newmar reprised her role and was just as wonderful as ever. Other Catwomen are good, and some may be better, but none are quite as delightful as her.
Eartha Kitt - “Batman” (1967)
Eartha Kitt made history as the first Black woman to don the cat ears and slinky jumpsuit after she replaced Julie Newmar in the “Batman” television series for its third and final season. With her signature, velvety transatlantic accent and captivating gaze, Kitt’s sex kitten breathed new life into the role, and it quickly became hard to imagine anyone else in her heels. As nonsensical as it sounds, Kitt even manages to sound like a cat, adding purrs and hisses at every possible juncture, and her physicality gives the impression that she spent months studying cats for her method portrayal. Even Newmar conceded that Kitt was born for the role, saying, “Eartha Kitt did it better. My God. No one could top that.” Kitt played the character during a turbulent period in the country’s civil rights movement, when seeing a Black woman as unapologetically sexual and cunning as Kitt onscreen was extremely rare, making her mesmerizing turn as Catwoman all the more powerful. And even though she was only in a few episodes of the series, Kitt’s Catwoman will be forever remembered as undeniably purrrfect.
Michelle Pfeiffer - “Batman Returns” (1992)
When it comes to a villain origin story, few hold a candle to Michelle Pfeiffer’s diabolical take on Selina Kyle in Tim Burton’s 1992 film, “Batman Returns.” After her boss, Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), attempts to murder her by pushing her out the window of his highrise office, a group of alley cats revive her and miraculously give her the sewing skills she needs to create the iconic, stitched-up, black latex catsuit and exact her revenge. Pfeiffer is is equal parts tantalizing and wicked, and gave us the unforgettable line delivery, “Somebody say fish? I haven’t been fed all day!” Pfeiffer mastered the whip enough to behead store mannequins without a stunt double, and her dowdy portrayal of Selina is the perfect comedic antidote to the film’s doom and gloom.
Pfeiffer was chosen from a list of more than a dozen hopeful felines, including Madonna and Meryl Streep, but it’s clear why Burton chose her for the role. Pfeiffer brings a delectable twist to the classic character and sets the bar high for future kittens, and her spot at the top probably won’t change anytime soon. After all, she does have nine lives.